Saturday, December 15, 2012

That Gorge in the Cadillac Commercials is Real and in Taiwan

The Eternal Spring Shrine is only one of the magnificent sites you will see if you take the plunge and go to Taiwan to drive through the Taroko Gorge.  The shrine is one of the places where you can stop along the way and get some culture for your trip.

Taiwan is one of those places that not too many people in my arena think of as a vacation destination.  Most of the people I know have no idea what goes on in Taiwan, which was what made me want to figure out what there was to do there.  It's not a country that comes up in vacation conversation like France, Brazil, or Japan.  It is, however, part of China technically, even though the place certainly shows it's own personality.

This is a great place to take a drive.  This is 19 km of the best driving in the world.  I remember when I checked out an e-mail that I got from a reader saying that I should check it out.  They said from the gate, to the turns to the tunnels to the shore, there was no better place to take a drive.  I'm not much for using a drive as a tourist attraction in and of itself, so I didn't think much of the idea.  I've seen Top Gear and I've seen the world's greatest roads that they always manage to find.  I don't normally care about a really good drive.  The piece that I'd been sent wasn't with images.  So, out of curiosity I looked up images and found out that this road was the road that I'd been seeing on recent Cadillac commercials.  Now that's not all.
The road through Taroko Gorge is so magnificent, that when I'd seen it on TV, I thought it was computer generated.  I saw all the tunnels carved in that narrow gorge with a lot of twists, turns, half caves and bridges.  It looked fake.  I was really surprised to find out it was real.

It doesn't look real.  It's carved out of marble.  There's tunnels and carved overhangs of the cliffs everywhere.  There's a tunnel that people walk through call the Tunnel of Nine Turns.  That's amazing.  The cliffs of the canyon rise up to 1,000 feet in some areas.  It's deep and it's narrow.
  The Swallow Grotto is the narrowest part of the gorge.  There are holes in the rock here that were forged by nature and are now inhabited by swallows' nests.  It's a beautiful place to hike and is a wonderful area to experience nature in the gorge.
Buluowan is where you will find the best part of your cultural experience in Taroko National Park.  Here is where the Atayal Tribe lives and lets travelers see into their lives as they were in the past and as they are now.  There is the Leader Hotel Taroko where you can stay and get an idea of the atmosphere of the culture.  It's right in the national park and it's a beautiful hotel with great amenities.

In Buluowan you can learn about traditional music as well as try the native foods.  The shopping is not bad either.
But remember, the real attraction here is the road.  There are statues along the way.  There are shrines and amazing hiking trails.  The only problem is that the hiking can be quite strenuous and not for everyone.  This needs to be approached like any other adventure of mine in that virtually anyone can do it. The statues are great.  They show the culture and the personality of the local people.
The hiking is great.  And in the summer, the swimming is great, although I hear that the Taiwanese people have a problem with getting in over their heads when they go swimming.  So, don't encourage the locals to swim unless you know them and are sure that they can swim.  It sounds nuts but it leads to hundreds of tragic deaths in Taiwan every year.

It's about the drive, baby.  And if you really feel uncomfortable driving yourself, you can hire a taxi or take a bus.  They are easy to get hooked up with and plentiful.  This is an easy one to do.  This is the most popular tourist attraction in Taiwan.  I'd just never heard of it before.  Now that I'm in the know, I have to caution you.  This should be a winter trip.  In the summer time the gorge and park are overrun with tourists.  So, even though it means that you won't be doing a lot of swimming, you should come in the off season and avoid the crowds.

The scenery is spectacular.  The road starts at sea level on the coast and runs up through the gorge to it's high point at 3700 meters through 38 tunnels and a winding road that you will not soon forget.  There are hiking trails and places to stop to eat, study the culture, and spend the night along the way.  Best of all, you can feel like you're in a Cadillac commercial.  It's the best of Taiwan and it's an amazing drive.  So, fly halfway around the world and take the drive of a lifetime.

Leave the ordinary behind.  Enjoy!

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